March 10 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Camden Council has come under fire for running up a £1.5million bill for taxis in the past year – one of the highest totals in London.
The council spent £1,569,512 on cabs – a figure that is more than 10 times higher than neighbouring Brent’s £128,980 spend, while Westminster Council spent £671,822 over the same period.
Despite council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward’s pledge to “make every penny count”, the council spent an average of nearly £140,000 per month on taxis to transport staff, school children and vulnerable residents from October 2012 to October 2013.
The vast bill for transport is revealed as the cash-strapped council battles to cut £80million from its budget over the next four years because of government cuts.
The spend, which is publicly available to view on the council’s website, places fresh pressure on council leaders during a period of redundancies and deepening cuts to frontline services.
But the council has insisted that the spend is justified.
A spokesman said: “We have a statutory duty to provide transport for children with special educational needs and adults with disabilities to school, day centres, and other organisations that offer care and support.”
He added that taxis and minibuses are used to transport “vulnerable residents” when the council’s own fleet of vehicles are “not deemed practical or suitable”.
Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet minister for finance, said Camden’s bill for taxis was bigger than others because the borough has a “higher level of people with higher levels of need”.
He said: “The cost that the taxpayer picks up is an example of the kind of pressure the town hall has to deal with when you have a high population and a lot of vulnerable people.”
Cllr Blackwell said that Camden would be most comparable with Islington in terms of the number of vulnerable people who need taxis.
But in the same period Islington spent £859,381 on taxis.
Cllr Keith Moffitt, Liberal Democrat and former leader of the council, has called for the council to explain the spend.
He said: “I think Camden Council should come up with a proper breakdown of the totals to show that taxis are being used for people with special needs, and not by officers being extravagant with taxpayer’s money.”
He added that during his time as council leader, between 2006 and 2010, it was “more common for staff to walk or take public transport” and that taxis were only used in “rare circumstances”.
Camden Council’s spending on taxis has been questioned by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who say that “unnecessary and wasteful” cab journeys should be scrapped to cut costs.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive, said: “This is a huge bill, at a time when neighbouring authorities manage to spend far less on costly taxi journeys. It’s vital that unnecessary and wasteful cab use is axed.”
He added: “Understandably some trips are unavoidable, whether they are for children with special education needs or in foster care, but that shouldn’t stop council chiefs demanding value for taxpayers’ money from the overall bill.”
A spokesperson for Brent Cars and Courier Services, one of the main providers of taxis for Camden Council, declined to comment.